Title: Bed & Late Night Snack, Part 2/5
Malfoy's flat was in a building not directly connected with Knockturn Alley. One had to go through a passageway inside another house to reach it. There was a back entrance that had once led to Muggle London, but it had been blocked so that Muggles couldn't get in and consequently, it also prevented passage in the opposite direction. Harry did suspect that there was some undisclosed route for the inhabitants to use if they needed to get out quickly, but Malfoy hadn't said anything about that and Harry hadn't asked.
He was somewhat surprised when, upon exiting to Knockturn Alley, they turned left – not in the direction of those seedy inns near Diagon Alley Harry had been dreading to have to sit in, but the more 'sophisticated' – if one dared use that word in this milieu – ones closer to the hidden depths of the street. Harry didn't say anything, though he was surprised that Malfoy had found a market for the dubious potions he was brewing in his back room in those places. His eyes and mind was ready to automatically catalogue everything and everyone he saw seeking contact with Malfoy; it was really too bad that the Unbreakable Vow would forever prevent him from using that information in an official capacity.
Malfoy turned right at a wooden door and entered an inn, Harry following in his footsteps. Once inside, he let the door close behind him while he took in the variety of sights, sounds and smells presented by this new fish-tank of people and magical creatures – humanoid and semi-humanoid alike. The place was larger than he had expected: larger than any other place he had been in along Knockturn Alley. The black-painted walls without windows, the many conversations mixing together into a sound akin to bubbling and sizzling, and the thick smoke swirling just above his head gave him the impression of having been dropped into a cauldron, to be processed into some obscure potion. And the glances he got indicated that he was the volatile ingredient that had been accidentally mixed into the brew and was about to cause an explosion.
Malfoy must have seen those looks as well, but he waded through the crowd as if they were nothing to worry about – or not directed at his entourage. Harry reckoned he should follow his example and not react to the prickling, hot sensation he could feel on his skin, as if those stares could scorch him alive. Their way led to a large, round table at the back of the inn, half-covered in dancing shadows that seemed not to be projected by obstacles standing in the line of light but something indefinable. Harry would have guessed they were created by magic but he had never heard of such spell, nor saw a point in employing one, so he could only conclude that it must have been some weird magical projection proper to one of the creatures around the table.
There were five of them: two wizards, a witch and two humanoid-looking lumps heavily covered by long-sleeved, hooded robes. The witch saw them first. She was half up with her wand in position to fire a curse. Harry's own hand was hidden in the long sleeve of the borrowed robe, but he kept his wand out of sight for the time being.
The others around the table reacted to the sudden movement with the antagonism Harry had expected, and soon there were four additional wands pointed at his head.
The situation was rapidly becoming worrying. Harry was starting to wonder whether it had been a mistake to trust Malfoy with his life and safety, when the tension was broken by a high-pitched roll of laughter. Harry wasn't the only one who suddenly lost focus of his previous target when he twisted his head toward the unexpected disturbance.
"Priceless! I wish you could see the look on your faces! I should have brought a camera."
After the startling and entirely inappropriate noise, Malfoy's comment seemed almost normal, and Harry suddenly recognised the tactic. He also recognised that Malfoy had had to know exactly what kind of welcome they would get and was angry with him for not warning him. On the other hand, Harry should have been better prepared. Undercover work had been part of his training; he just hadn't had a need to recall those lessons since. His face was too well known for his superiors to attempt sending him on any kind of undercover assignment to any place closer than Mozambique.
That part of Auror training clicked into his mind now and told him how to behave in face of this kind of danger. It suggested to leave handling the situation to Malfoy and attempt to act natural; confident, but not doing anything that would make him stick out like a sore thumb.
"Malfoy? What did you think, bringing him here?" one of the wizards asked. Harry noted that he was around Malfoy's age, his hair brown and curly and his face unfamiliar, which suggested that he hadn't been a student in Hogwarts.
"Hah! I knew you'd be falling for it." Malfoy seemed to have composed himself again after his little 'bout of hilarity', but he was still grinning like a loon. On any other person, it would have looked transparent, but Malfoy was prone to acting up at any given situation; it was a part of his personality, and it was now working to his benefit.
He stepped up to the table, suddenly seizing Harry's sleeve, then executed a funny little bow and dragged Harry to the forefront, as if formally presenting him. "Mates, meet Mr Doppelganger. He is new in the town, so be kind with him." Then he winked, as if he had just told a great joke.
The moment was broken when Malfoy, purposely acting his most obnoxious self, ferreted his way around the table. Harry had to concede that it was a fairly effective way of diverting the attention from him. Malfoy claimed two chairs, forcing the others to shuffle about, until they ended up pressed together on a padded bench that was mounted on the wall on the other side of the table. Harry was silently glad that with the setting Malfoy chose for them, the majority of the room would only see the back of his head and not his face, even if it meant that he was sitting with his back to the door.
The formerly frozen atmosphere thawed somewhat, but it was clear that the occupants of the table were keeping a wary distance from him, the newcomer. After a few minutes, seemingly everyone went back to their former activities, ignoring Harry's presence, but his keen senses picked up the undercurrent tension directed at him.
All through the night, Harry could feel their gazes on him, though he never managed to catch so much as a fleeting glance his way. He knew that he was being sized up, covertly evaluated, while everyone seemed to be occupied in a conversation that didn't include him. Not that Harry minded. So, at least, he had a chance to make his own assessment about the company Malfoy was obviously keeping these days. He couldn't say he was surprised that it seemed shady and slightly disturbing.
It was one of the hooded figures who spoke to him first, the voice deep and booming, which made Harry not want to know what kind of creature was hiding under the black cloth.
Harry felt a sudden rush of concern. He hadn't talked with Malfoy about what name he was going to use and now he could only hope that Malfoy would let him speak for himself. He knew if the other opened his mouth now, Harry would end up with some stupid pseudonym he would have to continue using. And that only if he were lucky. If not, then he and Malfoy would end up saying something different at the same time and manage to make him look more suspicious. Thank Merlin, Malfoy let him handle the situation.
"Harry will do. I'm used to people calling me that."
Even he was surprised by the fact that he had managed to sound poised – a hell lot of more poised than he was feeling. Finally, his training kicked in and he managed to school his features into something that he hoped looked both non-threatening and confident but not without a touch of aloofness. In a place like this, people who looked innocuous garnered the most suspicion.
He wasn't asked more questions. The next hour and a half was spent with idle conversation between the members of the group. Malfoy was talking business with the other wizard: a bald, burly fellow wearing bright violet robes. Harry noted that the garment was probably chosen with the intention to draw the attention away from the man's face.
The general noise level combined with their low tones made it impossible for Harry to understand more than a couple of words from the conversation. He was certain that Malfoy was doing it on purpose. Harry didn't really care; he was using the time to get acquainted with the place and the people there. Soon, the two persons dressed in hooded robes stood up and left the table without a word, and Harry found himself being the focus of the attention of a bored witch and the brown-haired wizard.
"So… Harry, is it?" she said. To Harry's frustration, she slipped over the now unoccupied space between them and settled on the chair next to him, even tugging it closer to his so their thighs almost touched. Harry didn't like anyone he didn't know sitting this close, especially in a place where he had reason to suspect people having hidden agendas and concealed weapons. "Talk a bit about yourself."
Harry lifted a brow and remained silent, trying his hardest to seem unapproachable.
He was thankful for the fact that the coloured lenses he wore would hide the contractions and dilatations of his pupils, concealing surprise, fear or satisfaction. They helped him to put up a detached expression in face of any situation, covering up for his bad habit of, as certain people called it, wearing his heart on his sleeve. He was glad for the small help especially in that moment, because the witch, despite vivid red hair – darker than Ginny's – a symmetrical, oval face, a pert nose and full lips, reminded him uncomfortably of the very person who used to criticize him for it. It must be those dark, piercing eyes, he reckoned. Then he made a mental note to avoid direct eye contact and watch out for signs that would indicate that someone was attempting to breach his mind.
"There is not much to know about me," he said finally, deciding that appearing cautious would probably seem the less suspicious. "Why, I am Harry Potter," he added with a wide grin and a teasing tone. "Everything you need to know about me you can find in the papers."
He felt Malfoy's shoulder pressed to his side go rigid, but his flow of words never stopped or stumbled, and he didn't reveal his surprise by turning towards Harry.
The witch's eyes betrayed her momentary shock, which she instantly tried to conceal by trying to imitate Harry's cheeky, teasing expression. It didn't look very accustomed on her, Harry noted.
"Pleased to meet you, Mister Potter… oh, I forgot, Harry. My name is Bianca." Her voice became a languid drawl Harry was rather used to from unknown witches. "Is it true, what Witch Weekly says? That red-heads are your type?"
For a second, Harry considered whether it was safe to continue playing along with his self-proclaimed role; finally, he decided that it would seem more suspicious if he backed away now. His instincts were telling him she was trouble, but he reckoned no harm could come from sticking to the tried and tested method of inventing things about 'himself'.
Malfoy didn't seem to be agreeing with him, though. He chose that second to give Harry a vicious kick under the table, which was impossible to hide. It made Harry jolt out of his track and forget what he wanted to say. "Sorry, but that's not true at all," he hissed, shooting an accusing glance into Malfoy's direction. In the meantime, his mouth switched to auto-pilot and he found himself sprouting one of his standard answers, which, he realised belatedly, was not the most fortunate in this situation. "I only go for blondes."
Harry could feel Malfoy tense again for a second, but he vowed that this time he would be ready for whatever unpleasantness the other man chose to dish out to him. Meanwhile, his attention turned back to the witch erroneously named Bianca, and he caught the tail end of a surprised glance darting from him towards Malfoy and back. When she noticed that Harry was looking at her again, her gaze turned calculated for a second, then she gave him a quick smile. For some unfathomable reason, she seemed flustered.
"Oh, I think that's… understandable," she said hastily, then cleared her throat and started looking for a waiter. Harry waited until her attention was turned away from him to school his own features. He could feel the tension in Malfoy's shoulder pressed to his own slowly ebbing away.
For the rest of the night, Bianca kept her distance. Harry found himself talking about herbology with the third member of the party, whose name turned out to be Tariq. He was surprised how much he actually remembered from One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. Before the fifth round of beers, Malfoy tapped his arm to signal that it was time for their departure. The gesture called forth one of those strange looks Bianca had been shooting Harry all through the night. As much as it initially amused him, now it was starting to make him wonder whether he had managed to blow his cover, and that prospect wasn't funny.
They visited two other inns very briefly, to introduce Harry and cement his new identity. To his annoyance, Malfoy must have decided that the best way to keep Harry from talking was to put him off balance by periodically intruding into his personal space and acting altogether too friendly with him. Harry definitely didn't like the way he kept grabbing his arm and kept practically dragging him along by his cuff. He supposed he would have to put up with it for the time being as he had no way to reprimand Malfoy until they returned to the privacy of his flat. On the other hand, if Malfoy's acquaintances saw them acting as if they were close, it would help assure them that Harry was someone who could be trusted. Still, Harry would have preferred if Malfoy kept his hands to himself.
After leaving the last establishment behind them Harry immediately extracted himself from Malfoy's grip. He was glad to be out of there and, quite frankly, not disappointed when Malfoy told him that the time was not yet right for them to make a visit to the other end of Knockturn Alley. He just wanted to get away from prying eyes for the rest of the night.
Malfoy gave him an amused glance over his shoulder, as if saying 'you got yourself into this, Potter'. Harry decided to act as if he hadn't noticed it. He sure as hell didn't need a scene while they were still out there and Harry feared that would be inevitable if Malfoy continued with his little act. He didn't really blame him, though. The first thing he had learnt in his line of work was that he just couldn't expect a civilian to remain professional; he was tempted to add: especially not if said civilian's last name was Malfoy.
That didn't mean he wasn't ready to confront his host and ask him just what the hell he thought he was doing immediately after the front door clicked closed behind their backs.
Malfoy didn't seem surprised by the veiled accusation. "I'm just working with what you've given me, Potter," he said.
"Which is?" Harry asked, annoyed.
"Oh, come on, Potter. You can't be that thick! You're hopefully aware that after that little declaration of yours, the streets are going to be full with the news that you're my new boy toy by tomorrow morning." Harry didn't like the leer Malfoy gave him. He rolled his eyes.
"I did not declare anything the like." Then, seeing the mocking lift of Malfoy's eyebrow, he added, "It was a slip. It wouldn't have happened if you hadn't kicked me. And it wouldn't have meant anything if you hadn't started acting up."
Malfoy shrugged, looking anything but apologetic.
"How was I supposed to know that you weren't meaning anything by it?"
"You were supposed to know when I tried to shake you off. And anyhow, why on Earth would you think I wanted you to start acting like that?"
There was a resounding silence after that declaration. Harry didn't care if the leer was still firmly in place on Malfoy's face because at least, he stopped talking. Harry hoped that meant that he had finally come to his senses and they could just forget this little interlude because he just realised that he was too tired to argue or, indeed, too tired to be able to think of anything but sleep right now. This realisation brought up another unexpected problem.
"You don't have a sofa. Where am I going to sleep?" he asked.
"I have a queen-sized bed."
Harry felt the urge to roll his eyes again. It seemed Malfoy was determined to have the last word in this immature game. He squinted at him with a tired glare.
"I think I'll pretend I didn't just hear you suggesting that I sleep in your bed. And you tell me you have a spare bed hidden somewhere," he said, forming the words carefully, so that Malfoy would definitely not be able to find a way to misinterpret them.
"I don't," Malfoy said. Harry could have gladly strangled him for that flippant tone, but that would have been hardly professional conduct. So he just gave up.
"Then I'll just sleep in here, on the spot where your sofa should be standing…"
"Wouldn't recommend it. Potions fumes can be pretty harmful."
"Then just point me to a horizontal surface and it'll do."
"There's the bed."
Finally, Harry ended up stomping into the bedroom and casting a couple of cushioning charms he had learnt from the bloke in Quality Quidditch Supplies on the floor next to Malfoy's bed, then he stole Malfoy's bedspread and burrowed himself in for the night.
Malfoy got in a couple of minutes later.
"Your loss, Potter," were his last words.
And finally: blessed silence.
He was startled awake again in the middle of the night by a sudden onset of rhythmic creaking sounds coming from the bedsprings. Harry's sleepy mind struggled with surprise and embarrassment when he recognised their likely cause, then muttered words reached his ears and he went rigid with shock...
"Mmmyeah… Oh, yes, Harry… my sweet… sweet piece of arse! Take it! You like my cock? I knew you'd be tight… so tight! Aaaaah yeeesss!"
Mortified, Harry threw a glance to his watch and saw that only ten minutes had passed since he had closed his eyes. He blew out the breath he had been holding noisily.
"Har-har. Very funny, Malfoy," he grumbled.
His answer was a snickering sound that came from the bed.
"You're so uptight, Potter," Malfoy chortled some more, most likely at the way he had pronounced 'uptight' so that the first syllable was barely audible.
"Shut up and let me sleep, finally," Harry grumbled, tuning his back to Malfoy.
"If you start snoring, I'll wake you up again."
"I don't snore," Harry said, and then proceeded to do just that.
The next day Harry woke up feeling grumpy. His foul mood was prompted by three things: one, that he had forgotten to take out his contacts the previous night and now his eyes itched like hell; two, that Malfoy was apparently used to sleeping in late; and three, that he was hungry and there was nothing in the pantry that looked edible.
He was contemplating the risks of leaving for grocery shopping alone, but he could hardly show his face in Diagon Alley, and now that he thought about it, he couldn't recall ever having seen a grocery shop in Knockturn Alley. Failing all else, he could have Apparated into Muggle London and then tried to get back there through the intertwined patches of wards meandering through the whole length of Knockturn Alley – the inhabitants were usually paranoid enough that they would only trust their own wards and then not bother removing them before leaving – if he weren't afraid of losing body parts in the attempt.
Thank Merlin, he didn't get far enough with the thought to actually implement it; he was interrupted by a message coming from Tonks to expect her arrival within ten minutes. She was coming to drop off some of Harry's clothes and to obtain a lock of his hair.
He had talked it through with Ginny before he had left that warehouse with Malfoy, and they agreed that it would be prudent if he didn't just disappear. Thus, she volunteered to convince a couple of the remaining Order members to make appearances in his skin. It was fortunate that he was suspended from his job for the next few weeks – the patrol duty in Knockturn Alley not counting, as he didn't have to report back – so the number of obligatory appearances would be limited.
Tonks had left Harry to contemplate the crime Ginny had committed by packing the most atrocious sets of clothes she could find in his wardrobe (almost exclusively ones she had talked him into buying). They were the uncomfortable, body-fitting sort that didn’t match Harry's usual style at all. He reckoned he would be wearing robes over them most of the time.
Malfoy appeared in the doorway to his bedroom, dressed and ready for the day. He must have woken up earlier, most likely at the racket Tonks had made when she had stumbled over the doormat. His eyes drifted at the new suitcase lying open in front of Harry, and he stopped to silently observe Harry rifling through its contents. Then he went and made some more some of that god-awful Pu-erh tea of his – the one that tasted as if one of his living ingredients had crawled into it and then died. Once done, he disappeared behind the pantry to spend the day with his cauldron.
Harry found himself having to do the grocery shopping after all.
He followed Malfoy into his little smelly sanctuary and, after concluding the usual ritual pissing contest between them, got Malfoy to tell him the way to get through the house into Muggle London. Turned out he didn't even have to go far; there was a small store right on the other side of the street. Harry reckoned that he wouldn't have much to do until nightfall, so he took the time to explore the neighbourhood a little: to find where the Muggle side ended and the wizarding side began, to locate possible escape routes if he ever needed them in the future. He also found a fast food restaurant and ate a late breakfast of burger and fries, topped with his favourite diluted coffee.
Around five in the afternoon, Malfoy slipped out of his laboratory, looking like a rat drenched in sewer water and indescribable oily substances. He seemed uncomfortable with the taken-aback look Harry wasn't able to stop giving him when he saw him emerging. He snapped that he wasn't going to cook for him, too, and then banged the door of the bathroom shut and spent the next half hour within the shower. Harry took it as his cue to get on with making something for supper if he didn't intend to go hungry.
They hit the pubs approximately at the same time as the previous evening. Harry wasn't surprised when Malfoy led them back to the first one they had visited. From the fact that they had spent more time there than in all the others together, and that Malfoy had actually bothered to sit down and talk with that circle of people instead of conducting his business standing at the counter, clued him in that those people or some of them were his friends and not just his buyers or sellers. Harry didn't really mind spending some more time with them, instead of on his investigation. At least he would be able to assess how well his cover had gone down.
Unexpectedly, just a couple of steps before they could have reached the door to the inn, Malfoy grabbed the front of Harry's robes and pulled him to the side, into a shadowed niche between two closely built houses. Harry was about to ask why they had stopped when Malfoy directed a serious look at him.
"Potter, you do know that I wasn't joking last night." Harry made a funny face because the first thing that had come to mind about 'last night' was the supposed wet dream Malfoy had enacted for Harry's benefit and for his own amusement. "Oh, not that!" And apparently, he was also a mind reader. "I mean that these people really do think that we are… together."
Harry felt the urge to roll his eyes again, but he refrained from actually doing it.
"Ah, come on, Malfoy! What reason would they have to?"
"What reason?" Malfoy seemed to be amused. "That you as good as told my dear meddlesome friend Bianca that we were. And even if you hadn't, it was only a matter of time for her to come to the most obvious conclusion."
"What? I didn't…" Harry began to complain, but then his mind processed the rest of what had just been said. "You're gay?"
Apparently, Malfoy didn't have any hang-ups about eye-rolling. "Missing the point as always, Potter."
"And you're avoiding it."
Malfoy shrugged. Harry thought he wouldn't get an answer, but then Malfoy must have changed his mind because he gave him a cautious nod. His shoulders sagged slightly, as if he was expecting Harry to be offended, but his tone remained flippant. "Surprised? Or are you bothered by it?"
Harry thought it over and found that he was neither. He shook his head.
The new information fit seamlessly into the imaginary puzzle named Malfoy, which, now it seemed, hadn't been shoved as far to the back of his mind as he had thought. Now Harry understood why Malfoy had so readily assumed that Harry had expected him to play the role of his… boyfriend, and why he didn't seem to mind doing it. But that still didn't mean that Harry would be willing to overlook the liberties Malfoy took by casually touching him.
Malfoy winked at him and stepped out of the shadow, heading towards the inn once again. Harry followed him on autopilot.
Actually, if he thought about it some more, he had to concede that acquiring a… pretend-boyfriend, for the lack of a better term, would only serve to cement his cover, as the 'real' Harry Potter had the solid reputation of being straight.
They were on their way to the table when Malfoy suddenly stopped dead in his tracks; Harry barely avoided bumping into him. He almost jumped when he felt slightly chilly fingers closing around his wrist; looking down, he identified them as Malfoy's, so he was able to suppress the urge to free himself.
"What is it?" he hissed. They were standing close enough for Malfoy to be able to hear him despite the general noise level.
Malfoy hadn’t stayed still for more than a second, though. He deftly sidestepped the main stream of the crowd and navigated them to a slightly darker part of the inn next to the counter, disguising his action by ordering two drinks. Harry had to admit that there was a benefit to having inadvertently produced an excuse to let Malfoy lean that close to him. They could discuss important things while giving the impression that… Harry didn't really want to think about what they looked to be doing.
"See those two sitting at our table?" Malfoy's breath tickled Harry's earlobe; he must have been really close because his words were barely more than an impression of air currents.
Harry let his gaze wander, seemingly randomly. He spotted the two hooded figures sitting there while glance swept through the whole establishment, but he didn’t dare let it linger on them for long. Then he noticed that there were mirrors mounted above the shelves at the back of the counter. They were apparently used to announce the drink prizes written onto the reflecting surface with colourful paints. They provided him with a good view of the whole establishment. He sought out his targets and he was able to observe them more closely while he was pretending to be contemplating what he wanted to order next.
"Those two don't belong here," Malfoy supplied him with the confirmation of what he had already suspected. At first glance, he had mistaken them for the two who had been sitting at the table the previous night. What distinguished them, though, was the near palpable aura of… menace surrounding them. The other patrons left a wide strip around them, even though the rest of the room was fairly crowded. This made them stand out like Thestrals trying to hide within a herd of Unicorns – even if you couldn't see them, the void betrayed their presence.
"Any idea who they are?"
As close as he was, Harry could feel Malfoy nodding.
"Their regular haunt is the Harpy Nest, a tavern where I was going to take you later today. It's frequented by people… who might know more about how to find our target. But those are usually not in the habit of mingling in this part of Knockturn Alley." Malfoy's voice sounded distrustful.
"How do you know they are from there?" Harry couldn't help but ask. He couldn't see anything that would distinguish them from the other guests.
"Tentacles," Malfoy whispered into his ear.
Harry could feel a shudder passing through the body leaning to his. He was about to ask Malfoy what he meant, but then one of the hoods turned slightly his way and he spotted it: two off-white, near-purple, flexible tendrils with a thick, complicated pattern of little dark suckers on the underside reaching out from under the black fabric and disappearing from Harry's sight when the stranger turned his… head? – Harry was hard pressed to correctly identify the body-part – away again.
"What the hell is that?" Harry whispered, not being able to tear his eyes away from the spot, even though the bizarre view had already disappeared from his sight.
"Illithids," Malfoy answered his question. "Humanoids with a mug like the Giant Squid. They call themselves mind flayers and are in the employ of Castor Dilato."
Harry felt excitement surging in his blood. He stomped down on it firmly. Yes, this was the man he was working to get closer to; on the other hand, he didn't figure those… employees of his would prove very accommodating if he just went up to them, demanding to be lead to their boss -- even if he disregarded his instinctive apprehension that came from their rather bizarre look.
"Never heard of things like those," he breathed, chilled by the thought of something like these creatures actually existing.
Malfoy gave out a soft snort right in his ear.
"You wouldn't find things like that in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or those Auror books of yours. You'd have to search somewhere different."
There was a second when Malfoy took the time to throw a glance at the creatures in question, which was probably not meant for dramatic effect but still came across like it. Then Malfoy turned back to him, and for some reason only he could have explained, he was grinning.
"Monster Manual," he said, then continued with rattling off a list of information about uncanny mind-reading powers, disgusting culinary habits of eating human brains and some sort of dice throwing technique Harry suspected to be related to Arithmancy. Harry felt his heart wanting to jump out his throat and was frantically searching his mind for spells that would work against creatures like these if it came down to a fight, only to be interrupted by Malfoy's incredulous laughter.
He almost gave himself a whiplash, wrenching his gaze away from the hooded figures to find out what was so funny. From the look he got, it became quickly obvious that Malfoy was laughing at his cost.
"I can't believe you fell for that." There was a glint of amusement dancing in the grey eyes that made Harry want to connect his knuckles with that delicate nasal bone. "They might call themselves fancy names, but they are actually just wizards, like you and me, if somewhat uglier. It's all just PR: useful in their line of work. The appendages are the result of curses gone wrong." For a second, Malfoy had a look on his face that said he was well able to relate.
"Oh." That was the only answer Harry was capable of giving.
"What do you reckon they're doing here?" Harry asked after having recovered his dignity. His glance darted back at one of the hooded figures in time to witness it as one of the tentacles swiped down on a chunk of meat. It grabbed up the food from the plate, then the whole slimy thing disappeared under the hood.
Harry shuddered. "I'm never eating sushi again."
"That's called takoyaki," Malfoy remarked haughtily under his breath, his voice still vibrating with humour.
"No, it is not."
"Yes, it is."
"No, and shut up now. People are looking."
Harry felt Malfoy shrugging against him and he became conscious of how closely their bodies were pressed together. It seemed rather important to have Malfoy at a respectable distance again, but that required solving the situation first. "What do you suggest we do?" he asked, wrenching his mind back on track.
Malfoy appeared to be thinking, but only for the duration of a heartbeat or two.
"They are obviously here waiting for someone. Do you think they are waiting for us? And if they are…" Malfoy trailed off; Harry understood he didn't want to voice details he didn't want to be overheard.
"Only one way to find out," he murmured. "You up to it?"
Malfoy's chest pressed briefly to Harry's front as he took a last, steadying breath; the warm gush of air in Harry's ear left a tingling sensation in its wake.
Harry waited until Malfoy was standing firmly on his feet again, then pushed up from the bar stool, automatically taking position in front of the other wizard. Malfoy didn't object, but his fingers were back around Harry's wrist. Harry felt irritation welling up in his guts at the unwanted touch, but he stomped down on it. At least so he would have an inkling of where Malfoy was standing behind him.
It went easier than expected, but not easy enough to cause suspicion. Harry had a feeling that the whole meeting had been choreographed to achieve the perfect balance between an interrogation by the henchmen of a crime organisation and a job interview. Actually, to Harry and Malfoy's greatest surprise, that was what it had boiled down to: allegedly, his 'skills' as the infamous doppelganger of Harry Potter were needed to perform a delicate operation for no other than the very person he was trying to get closer to… He didn't need Malfoy to forcefully drag him out to the toilet halfway through the interview to tell him that it was a trap.
"Calm down, Malfoy, I know it is." Harry shrugged to shake Malfoy's hand off his shoulder and straightened his robe. He was not backing down, damn it.
He expected Malfoy to start arguing with him about going back out, then storm off in anger and leave him to his own devices as soon as he realised that he couldn't change Harry's mind, but all he got was an appraising glance. Then Malfoy nodded slowly.
"Well, as long as you're clear on that..."
Harry couldn't help a slightly taken aback grunt.
"Thought so," Malfoy said, then started rummaging in one of his pockets. "Here. You're crap at Occlumency; you're going to need this."
Harry reached for the small vial of dark liquid then looked back at Malfoy questioningly.
Malfoy shrugged and leaned to the wall. "I expected you to be stubborn. So I thought, why not get a little control over the situation?"
"Meaning?" Harry frowned at Malfoy's casual smirk. He didn't like riddles.
"Meaning that, in all likelihood, the two gentlemen out there are now utilising our absence to spike your drink with truth serum. They aren't called 'mind flayers' just as a joke. No, it's not Veritaserum," Malfoy cut in before Harry could have asked how they had managed to get into possession of a Ministry-controlled potion. "But if you didn't have that," and here he nodded towards the vial in Harry's hand, "…you'd soon be wishing it was Veritaserum."
Harry looked down on the small, unassuming object in his palm, then back to Malfoy.
"How did you know…"
"Didn't. I always have it with me."
"And what about you? Do you have another dose for yourself?"
Malfoy shrugged. "No but they don't expect me to drink after we just left them alone with our glasses. Besides, I'm not the suspect here."
Harry frowned. "I could just refuse to drink as well."
Malfoy nodded. "True, you could. And never see them again."
The statement was followed by a pregnant silence, then Malfoy stuck out his chin, somehow managing to point it at the antidote. "Drink all of it and then…"
He couldn't finish the sentence. The door to the bathroom flung open; Malfoy, who had been leaning at it, was shoved forward. There were voices coming from the other side, one of which Harry identified as belonging to the interrogator who had done most of the talking during the past half hour and went by the name Nash. He hadn't been told the name of his silent companion.
In the next instant, Malfoy was on him. One of his hands gripped Harry's robes and pushed him bodily into the tiled wall. Caught by surprise, Harry's head connected painfully with the hard surface. Malfoy's body followed his and pressed into his front, then all of a sudden, Malfoy's lips fastened to his own. His first impression was that Malfoy was trying to suffocate him with his tongue.
Malfoy's free hand grabbed Harry's fingers with the vial between them and then, without preamble, stuffed them down the front of Harry's trousers. Harry's protesting groan was swallowed by Malfoy's insistent mouth and transformed into a different kind of noise which made his ears burn. A heat of completely a different nature was generated by bony knuckles pressing into a body part of his that was taking altogether too much interest in the happenings.
The only reason that Malfoy hadn't found himself kicked into the row of urinals on the opposite wall a few seconds later was that Harry was hard pressed – in more than just one way – to hold on to the vial. A strong yet deceptively slender arm had curled around his waist, and a quick bite to his lower lip made it clear that he was either going to cooperate or risk his cover. It wasn't like he had much of a choice.
Thus, this was the sight that greeted Nash when he entered the back room.
"What are you…" The steps stopped half through the door, their owner hesitating. Harry, his mouth otherwise occupied, was decidedly not in the state of being able to provide an answer. Not that it wasn't glaringly obvious what Malfoy wanted him to think they were doing.
Malfoy slowly detached his lips and turned towards the intruder; Harry was only just able to catch the quickly assembled mask of annoyance settling on his face. The strategic brush of fingers to his neither regions was probably meant as a warning for Harry to hold his tongue. It had been unnecessary. Even if Harry had been capable of any coherent speech at this point, he had no idea what to say to make this disaster of a diversion tactic work.
Malfoy didn't say anything either. Apparently, all that was needed was a look from him. The next instant, to Harry's shock, Nash was backing out of the door with a muttered apology. He even made sure to carefully close it after himself.
By the time Malfoy turned back, Harry had managed to get back his bearings. He frowned at the triumphant smirk on Malfoy's lips, while he couldn't help but notice that they had that shiny, freshly kissed look to them.
"That was the lamest trick in the book," Harry grumbled; he concentrated on extracting Malfoy's hand from his pants while avoiding brushing certain parts of his body with it.
"And it always works. Just admit it," Malfoy said with a wink and a sudden move below the waist, making Harry gasp, before he relented. "I win hands down," he added cheerfully.
Harry groaned at the immature pun. Malfoy's gaze swept curiously over the slight bulge tenting Harry's trousers. Harry hastily hid it beneath loose robes.
"Well then, bottoms up!"
Malfoy gave him an amused look when he wiped the dampness lingering from the previous kiss off his lips before lifting the bottle to drink its contents.
"That went better than expected," Malfoy said, smirking. Harry could only groan in answer, while he felt himself being deposited in the middle of the living room floor. Malfoy clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "You shouldn’t have drunk so much, Potter."
All things considered, Harry was amazed that he was still able to recognise at all that he was being mocked.
"Amn't drunk," he muttered, wondering whether the nausea he could feel creeping up on him would go away if he just sat very still. At least Malfoy had stopped pawing him, now that his support wasn’t necessary anymore to keep Harry on his feet. "Your antidote's ussshlessh."
There was a sudden bout of tinkling laughter coming from the general direction of the kitchen, but it stopped rather suddenly, like the sound of a radio being turned off.
"It's not useless. It helped you to maintain your control and prevented you from blurting out anything that crossed your mind at any given second. It just doesn't alleviate the outward signs of the drug you have been given. If it did, they'd have known you weren't affected… now that's what I'd call useless. Don't you?"
Harry was forced to concede. Malfoy was right; it had gone well… or not bad at any rate. He suddenly remembered and stuck his fingers inside his robe pocket, rummaging for the little card that had been slipped in there. Once he found it, he took it out, careful to not crumple it with his numbed fingers. He hadn’t had time to examine it after it had been given to him; Malfoy had dragged him away from the table and its other occupants rather insistently at the time, denying him the opportunity to read it or even just to give it a closer look.
The light of the old-fashioned gas lamp mounted on the opposite wall was suddenly blocked by the shadow of two legs stepping in front of Harry. A fine-boned hand appeared in front of his sight and reached for the little card; Harry was unable to do anything when two fingers delicately plucked it out of his grasp.
"Don't crumple it. It's our only ticket through the wards into the Dilato mansion," Malfoy's strangely disembodied voice murmured. "I'd rather not go all through that once again just because you weren't careful with it." Harry didn't understand what Malfoy was talking about. It wasn't like he was the one who had to drink that truth serum, was he?
He must have asked that aloud, because Malfoy gave him a frown. He just looked at Harry, contemplating, for several seconds before he decided to answer.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I returned with the drinks, only to discover Nash poking at your forehead with his wand. You should teach me how you Aurors do these kinds of things; this here seems to be able to endure a damn lot more than my Glamours…" A light caress tickled the sweaty skin above Harry's brows; it took him a few seconds to realise that it came from Malfoy's finger smoothing over the place where his scar could normally be seen. "You're lucky I got there in time," he said finally.
Harry thought Malfoy wasn't making sense, but the reason eluded him at the moment. Then there were two hands under his elbows, pulling him up from the carpet to his not very stable feet. "Come on, Harry, before you fall asleep on the spot."
At first, Harry had trouble determining what it was that had felt off about that statement. Then he remembered that Malfoy had been more or less forced to call him by his first name the whole evening; it had been a part of his cover. It sounded surreal. But it was still a whole lot better than being called those ridiculous pet names Malfoy used as some kind of idiotic code whenever he wanted to warn him to steer clear from a topic.
On second thought, the feeling of wrongness might have been caused by the amusement in Malfoy's tone he hadn’t bothered to conceal.
"You think this is funny?" Harry complained after Malfoy started snickering about how he wasn't able to put one foot in front of the other on their way to the bedroom.
"Believe me, Potter, it is funny," came the answer in the form of a husky whisper too close to his ear, the unexpected sensation causing Harry to stumble. An arm, curled snugly around his middle, held him back from falling on his face.
"You could at least keep the groping to a minimum," Harry grumbled unhappily.
There was a sigh, warm air tickling his nape and rising goose bumps all the way down along his spine.
"I was wondering when you'd start complaining again." The tone sounded amused, still. "But perhaps you weren’t because you were enjoying it. Tell me, Harry, just why aren't you bothered more by this?"
Harry took a second to actually think about the answer. It didn't make any sense. He was bothered. Just not complaining.
"Why should I? It's not like you would stop if I did."
His answer caused Malfoy to flinch. Harry replayed it in his mind and realised how that must have sounded.
"I mean, you might be gay, but it isn't like you are really coming on to me. This is just the role we have to play right now." And you like needling me, he added silently. He wasn’t befuddled enough to say it out loud and remind Malfoy of his favourite pastime.
There was a second silence then Malfoy's arms tightened around his torso and his weight was lowered onto a soft surface.
"Are you sure about that, Potter? You might just be in denial."
His shoes were being pulled off and his robes tugged over his head. Malfoy hesitated over the trousers maybe for a second then Harry felt the brush of cold fingertips nimbly undoing his fly and the trousers joined his robes somewhere on the floor. Harry was almost asleep but astonishingly, he found enough lucidity in him to deliver a last, coherent argument.
"You're mixing up the terms heterosexual and homophobe, Malfoy. Why does everyone who isn't repulsed by homosexuality have to be gay by default?"
Wasn't that what Seamus always said?
The drug he had ingested played one more trick with his mind before it flushed out of his system. It started innocuously enough, with a feeling like a trickle of moisture in the juncture of his shoulder and neck where something warm was pressed to his body.
His feet were cold. He noticed that he was standing up to his ankles in cold water. Then he took a look around and saw that Hogwarts was sprawling behind his back, and the dark, icy swells of the lake were swirling around his legs.
He might have taken a step or two forward when he wasn't looking because the water was suddenly up his shins. He was wondering why he was there. Had he wanted to take a swim?
He couldn’t feel the lake bottom beneath his soles anymore, or perhaps his toes were just too numbed by the cold by then. He had a feeling of floating, with his head just above the surface, but he wasn’t treading the water and it was still holding him up. The source of heat had warmed part of his back, somehow weighing down on his shoulder, but he was freezing everywhere else. And, he noticed as the water had free access to his body's recesses, he was naked.
A touch on the small of his back, even colder than the water around him, made him flinch and lose his balance, causing his body to sink under the surface. As his face was covered by the cold waves, he was struggling with the urge to start thrashing. He knew that would only ensure that he start sinking like a stone. The cold touch went away for a bit, but when it returned, it sneaked around his waist once, then a second time, and didn’t stop there.
Strangely, he wasn’t panicking. It didn’t feel as if the strong, boneless limb - was it a tentacle? - around his torso was trying to pull him down. It did keep him within the water, but it felt safe and… tantalising. And the warmth was still there. That one was the touch of a human, as Harry could clearly identify the feeling of fingers smoothing down his back – even if, technically, they should not have been able to, due to the tentacle wrapped around him – until they reached the swell of his arse where they stopped and… squeezed. And that… was the start of the most lucid, detailed and disturbing (and yes, also the most intensely sensual) wet dream Harry had ever experienced in his life.
It ended with the distant sense of a familiar male voice professing his undying love to Harry and the Giant Squid in the throes of shared passion.
The most mortifying thing about waking up after that was the dual feelings of the cooling dampness on his stomach which glued the sheet to his front, and Malfoy plastered to his back, snickering. And of course, he was also hogging the blanket. No wonder Harry had been cold enough for the sensation to even intrude into his dreams – except at the spot where Malfoy had snuggled to his back and drooled on him.
"That was quite the show, Potter," came the sultry voice from directly next to his ear. He jerked his shoulder to get Malfoy off himself.
Malfoy relented but only reluctantly, sprawling out on his back. The move revealed what Harry had already known from having felt it on his own skin: that he wasn't wearing anything. Neither was Harry, for that matter. Malfoy didn’t seem to be embarrassed by Harry seeing the tell-tale smear on his belly, still glistening moistly in the warm morning light.
"Don't worry about it, it's an after-effect of the antidote," Malfoy said a few seconds later, his voice amused. "It sure as hell beats the screaming nightmares that the drug would have given you otherwise. Believe me, I know."
Harry turned to give him a scathing glare, nonetheless, and was briefly surprised at the lack of soreness in his backside – before he remembered that it had been just a dream.
"Why am I in your bed, anyhow?"
Malfoy didn’t answer. He only rolled his eyes with that damn amusement still dancing in their corners. Then he tossed the blanket aside and got up, not bothering to cover his nudity, to make his way to the bathroom.
When Harry yelped out his name, scandalised, he had the guts to outright laugh at him and call him back on his previous statement about not being gay and therefore, Malfoy not needing to be all prudish in front of him. Harry didn't get the chance to tell him that it was not about sexual preferences but the fact that he had not wished to ever reach that degree of familiarity with him because Malfoy was not listening anymore, having closed himself into the bathroom and started the shower.
And of course, he used up all the warm water.
If it hadn’t been for that bloody continually amused attitude, Harry would have thought Malfoy was on some kind of warpath: out for revenge because of something Harry had done to him recently. He just wished he knew what it was.
Oh yes, and who could forget the tea of evil Harry was forced to drink because Malfoy only had one teapot. Revenge, no doubt about it.
Harry was feeling a little better after he'd had breakfast. Physically, he was still somewhat under the weather, damn that potion. If he'd had to go in to work, he would have called in sick because, in case of an emergency, he wasn't sure he would have been able to handle a wizard duel in his present condition.
That made him think about the situation at his workplace. Tonks had taken a lock of his hair to be used with Polyjuice Potion if his presence were required. Not that he expected it would have to be used regularly. Robards had as good as told him that he didn't want to see his face for a couple of weeks, whether he was going on patrol in Knockturn Alley or taking an extended holiday to Hawaii.
The fact that it had been Tonks who had come had caught Harry off guard. He had expected Ginny to keep his disappearance secret and was now wondering who knew about it. When he pondered it some more, Tonks' involvement shouldn't have come to him as such a shock. If Ginny had told her who Harry supposedly was after, then her commitment to the case would go without saying.
Malfoy went out after breakfast, allegedly to buy ingredients for his potions. Harry wasn't certain he could take the declaration at face value, but it made no difference. He knew Malfoy wouldn't want to deliberately jeopardise his chances for finally catching his mother's murderer. On the other hand, for all Harry knew, Malfoy could have told him the truth and was really just buying ingredients. It didn't matter whether Harry thought he could believe him or not. Harry couldn't risk letting his guard completely down if he wanted to keep his hide intact in a hostile environment like Knockturn Alley.
He used the time he had to himself to clean up, cast a quick Laundry Charm on his used clothes – not as thorough as washing them would be, but it had to do for now – and then sat down to examine the fruit of the previous night's tribulations: the little card that had been pressed between his by then insensitive fingers at the end of the night.
It was made out of some thick material; now that he had more time to examine it, he decided that it was neither parchment nor paper. It had still retained the texture of fibres, so Harry's first hunch was that it was papyrus – not that he had ever before seen real papyrus from up close. It was approximately the size of a Muggle business card; black ink letters spelled out an address consisting of only a street and a house number. 103 Knockturn Alley. Harry hadn't known that the houses in Knockturn Alley were even numbered; he had never before been able to discover any kind of identification on them.
The most interesting part of the card, though, wasn't its outward appearance, but the magic that seemed to be a part of it. Harry didn't dare use any of the stronger detection spells on it for fear that it could affect it, but he was able to learn that the card was supposed to work sort of like a portable charm to allow passage through an area that was magically protected against intruders. He wasn't able to discover whether it would only work once – most likely – or whether it would permit entrance to more than one person – he hoped so because he didn't fancy the thought of going in there without Malfoy to give him pointers about how to act when faced with customs he had no knowledge about. His understanding of Dark wizards might have been enough to successfully hunt down and catch them, but pretending to be one of them was an entirely different matter.
He was roused from his contemplations by the sharp sound of the front door being opened and closed hastily, followed by Malfoy stomping into the room. Harry's instincts screamed trouble even before he had taken a glance at Malfoy's face, noticing the colour of anxiety high on his cheeks. He was on his feet and ready without needing to be prompted.
"Pack your suitcase for an extended vacation. We need to go," was all Malfoy said before storming into the bedroom and – judging from the noises – proceeded to do just what he had suggested to Harry.
Harry didn't need much time with his own belongings, but instead of the suitcase Tonks had dropped off, he chose the duffel bag he had bought the first night. He hadn't yet unpacked the suitcase either, so it was only a matter of grabbing the stack of neatly folded clothes and stuffing it into the bag. He made a run for the bathroom and collected his toiletries, dropping them on the top of the pile. Then he closed his suitcase, pushed it under the bed, and he was ready to go.
To his surprise, Malfoy hadn't taken much longer to get ready either. He emerged with a small suitcase in his hand, approximately the size of Harry's duffel.
"What happened?" Harry asked while falling in with Malfoy's hurried steps and following him back to the door. Malfoy wasn't in a chatty mood but he was willing to give him the essentials.
"Hit Wizards. They stopped me on my way back and started asking questions about you, of all things."
"Me?" Harry hissed in surprise, his attention divided between the news and trying not to fall on his nose while taking the steps three at a time, practically flying down the back staircase of Malfoy's house – the one that led to the exit to the Muggle neighbourhood.
"You," Malfoy confirmed. He wasn't keeping in form like Harry; he was already somewhat short of breath – he was still the quicker one on his feet.
"They said you've been sighted with me and some known Dark wizards yesterday in a known establishment – figure that. …Started asking questions about how well I know you and whether I know where you are hiding. …Managed to throw them off but they know where I live, and I'm sure it's only a question of time before they start looking at the most obvious places."
It took Harry a couple of sentences to realise that Malfoy was not speaking about him but his cover identity. The Hit Wizards had been tipped off about the doppelganger, which meant that apparently, someone had given the Ministry's fabrication more credit than it was worth. But Hit Wizards weren't, like Aurors, self-contained one person units within the Magical Law Enforcement. Their job description didn't allow them to take action on their own account; not without an order from above.
Harry's attention was pulled back to the present as they emerged from the darkness of the passageway onto the busy Muggle street. Malfoy had stopped in front of him, looking around briefly and pretending to browse house numbers before he made a decision and turned right. Harry had been one step behind him but the brief stop had allowed him to catch up, and was now walking next to him, instinctively shielding the civilian with him from danger by taking the side closer to the open road.
"Where are we going?" he asked, trying to keep his voice down as much as the noise allowed it, which meant that he had to repeat his question a bit louder. Malfoy didn't bother with stealth. Instead, he chose to act natural, as if they were just two people on a casual stroll and not flying from a pursuit. Harry had to admit the latter worked better in the situation.
"We're staying with friends," Malfoy answered.
At first Harry didn't think of it much, assuming that he was talking about acquaintances of his who would be willing to give them refuge. But Malfoy didn't offer an explanation about who those 'friends' were, which made Harry realise where he had got it wrong.
"You do have the card with you, right?"
Harry's answering grunt was followed by a contemplating frown.
"We aren't supposed to go there before nightfall."
"I know," Malfoy answered with a flippant smirk; it seemed slightly off-centre, betraying that Malfoy was a good deal more nervous under the frivolous exterior than he was willing to let on. Strangely, that served to put Harry at ease, realising that, against all appearances and his fears of the opposite, Malfoy was taking things seriously while making an effort to put up a façade and keeping a cool head. The grudging realisation that, if not for his past, he could have made a good Auror with those skills took Harry somewhat by surprise and caused him to remain silent for the next five minutes.
In the end, it was Malfoy who broke the somewhat strained silence between them some five blocks later.
"Potter," he started, and Harry was jolted out of his musings by hearing his last name, which had gone largely unused in the last days. "As much as it pains me to admit, I am not familiar with this… part of the city…" Meaning the Muggle world, Harry realised with another jolt. Of course, it would fall back on him to find a suitable place to hide before they would be able to retreat to their final destination of the night.
That's how they ended up first in a fast food restaurant, then in a cinema. Of course, Malfoy started complaining, which he didn't stop even after Harry introduced him to the concept of hiding in plain sight. Harry decided to bite the bullet and pacify him with the information that Hit Wizards never followed their suspect into the Muggle world; even most of the Aurors didn't. As far as they were concerned, the problem became the Muggles' responsibility as soon as the suspect set foot in their world, until he returned to wizard territory or breached the Statute of Secrecy. The only wizards in the Ministry who cared about what happened to Muggles were those from Level Three and the lads from the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. Harry hoped against hope that Malfoy would not exploit this knowledge for his own gain in the future… On second thought, he would probably have to make a trip down to Ron sometimes in the future and ask him a personal favour to Obliviate Malfoy. Somehow, he was certain Ron wouldn't object much.
"I should have known, Potter, that I should only expect trouble from you," Malfoy whispered during the 'romance'-scene of the random action movie for which Harry had bought two tickets with the intention of killing time away from prying eyes. "It's not enough that you forcibly move in to my place, now you also managed to accomplish that I probably won't be able to go back there ever again."
Harry sighed – not because he blamed Malfoy for having become bored with the performing ability of the busty blonde seducing the gun-wielding topless muscle-man; he wasn't really interested in the act either. He leaned closer to give Malfoy a whispered answer.
"You're not stupid so stop acting like you are. The Ministry knows there is no doppelganger. They sent the Hit Wizards after me because they don't like me sniffing around, and they sent them with false information because they obviously want to hush this up. Oh, and stop using my last name."
Harry felt Malfoy stiffening at his side, then there was a noise like polystyrene pebbles grinding together, most likely as Malfoy's grip closed convulsively around his popcorn.
"What does that mean, Harry?" came the furiously hissed question. "What reason would they have to prevent you from catching a wanted killer? Unless…"
"Later," Harry whispered back, realising belatedly that he didn't really want Malfoy to know that. He hoped that Malfoy would forget about their little conversation – not that he should really expect it, judging from the glare Malfoy had given him from the corner of his eyes before turning back his attention to the film.
Despite all of the complaining he had done, it turned out that Malfoy had actually liked the food enough to insist on going back to the restaurant and buy another pair of burgers for dinner. Harry thought that there would be trouble from the Muggles when Malfoy carelessly ordered Pu-Erh tea to drink with it, but it turned out they actually had it in their selection, though Malfoy was appalled that it came in a teabag and complained about quality.
Before long, street lights were being lit and they were on their way back to Knockturn Alley. Neither of them thought it would be a bright idea to go through the Leaky Cauldron, but Apparating was also out of question – nothing better to draw unwanted attention to their presence than a loud noise heralding their arrival. Thus, they resolved to risk going back the same route they had used on their way out. Hit Wizards didn't have a special licence for pursuing Dark wizards the way Aurors did, so they weren't allowed to break into Malfoy's flat without having actual charges on him – which they most likely hadn’t or they would have restrained him when they had first stopped him for questioning.
Malfoy suggested the use of Disillusionment Charms but Harry vetoed the idea, knowing that it would only serve to betray their presence in case the Hit Wizards had put up detectors. The plain old tactic of sneaking past them, using shadows to hide in, would serve their purpose better. So sneak they did, and it proved to be easier than expected.
A sweaty fifteen seconds later, they were standing before their final destination. The house number, now visible on the gate, marked the place just as surely as the two distinctive hooded figures standing behind the dark-painted iron fence did.
Harry stopped at a sharp tug on his robe sleeve and turned his head to look at Malfoy. The other didn’t open his mouth, but the look in his eyes spoke for itself. Harry gave him a nod in confirmation to the unvoiced question: this was the house. The answering hardening of those eyes told Harry that Malfoy was just as determined to get in as he was.